Traveling to Golestan Province in northern Iran is an exciting choice for tourists who enjoy visiting unique historical places. Gonbad-e-Qabus Tower (also known as Gonbad-e-Kavus Tower) is one of the most famous tombs of Iran that you can visit in this province. Near the ruins of an ancient city called Jorjan – which is known as Gonbad-e-Kavus today – you’ll find a 53 m high tomb entirely constructed from bricks. Dating back to 1006 ad, Gonbad-e-Qabus has been added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites for its significant historical, cultural and architectural value. Let’s see what makes this tomb tower a must-see in Iran.
What was the function of Gonbad-e-Qabus Tower?
Built in 10th century during the reign of Qabus, son of Voshmgir, the king of Ziarid dynasty, this simple yet gorgeous tomb is the tallest brick tower in the whole world. It’s regarded as the only remaining monument from the destroyed city of Jorjan which used to be a respected center of arts and science before the Mongol’s invasion in the 14th and 15th centuries. With unique architectural characteristics which demonstrate the technological, mathematical and artistic advancements of Iranians, it’s not surprising that this tower has gained world-wide attention.
Did you know that Iran is home to the Largest Brick Dome of the world too? Click here to read about it.
When visiting Gonbad-e-Qabus, don’t expect the typical Iranian elaborately decorated monument. Although Iran is home to majestic architectural structures with colorful tile-works and detailed decorations, Gonbad-e-Qabus is not that type of a structure. But it’s an exceptional masterpiece with its eye-catching simplicity.
In fact, it is one of the best examples of a type of structure called “Menar” or “Meel” in Farsi. These structures are characterized as tall buildings with a conical roof and very simple – if any – decorations. Menar means “a place for fire” and there was always a flame of fire on top of these buildings in order to show the way to travelers.
Interestingly, these type of towers were mostly built during the same era and had a remarkable value due to their function as road guides for travelers. These tall towers were built along roads and routes and were visible from great distances so that they could make it possible for people to find their way in the darkness of nights.
The tradition of building tomb – towers dates back to pre-Islamic Iran. During the reign of Sassanian dynasty, these towers were converted into fire temples. Therefore, Zoroastrian priests took charge of lighting fire and keeping it burning on top of these tomb – tower temples. As can be understood, building tomb – towers which were characterized by lighting fire was banned after Islam became the official religion of Iran. But this tradition became popular again after 400 to 66 years which means 11th to 13th centuries.
But it’s probable that the tall and magnificent tower of Gonbad-e-Qabus was built for several purposes. Some believe that it’s the tomb of Qabus-ibn-Voshmgir but no evidence has been found in archaeological excavations to prove this. On the other hand, it’s said that Sultan Qabus had ordered astrologers to build an observatory in the city of Jorjan. Therefore, some believe that Gonbad-e-Qabus is that observatory. It’s also guessed that this tower was constructed as a symbol of Jorjan and the glorious power of Sultan Qabus’ kingdom.
It’s noteworthy to mention some of the legends about this tower. For example some locals believe that the dead body of Qabus was hung from this tower so that the sun would shine on it! And some people say that there have been canals constructed below the tower that were extended to Russia! Although none of these legends sound logical, it’s always interesting to know about the tales and stories that are believed among locals.
If you are interested in local tales and legends, read about the legend of Pirshalyar in Kurdistan here.
Elements of Gonbad-e-Qabus
This adorable brick tomb-tower displays two inscriptions in Kufi script, one on the lower part of the structure and the other right below its conical tomb which form a belt around the truck of the building. The inscriptions have provided historians with information about the date and historical era of this tower. Although Gonbad-e-Qabus has been referred to as a castle in the inscriptions on it, the vacant interior of it demonstrates that it was never intended to be used as a residence.
It is made from fired bricks and depicts a cultural influence from Central Asian nomads of Iran which is very special and unique in its own right. In addition, Gonbad-e-Qabus astonishes every observer by its intricate geometry featuring a cylinder shape domed by a conical roof with a small window that has given a fairy tale look to it. The architecture of Gonbad-e-Qabus is very different from the typical Persian and/or even the world-wide known post-Islamic Iranian architecture.
A Flawless Monument from 1000 Years Ago
Undoubtedly, a construction that has been made with perfect accuracy that reveals remarkable engineering advancements from 1000 years ago must-not be neglected. Moreover, it has resisted two earthquakes of magnitude 6 and is still in excellent condition.
Although Gonbad-e-Qabus has been restored 3 times during its long life as a valuable monument, its original strength and the accuracy of its plan is undeniable.
After buying a ticket, you will be allowed to enter the tower. Although there’s not much to see inside, the architecture and the way your sound echoes there is interesting. Looking at the interior ceiling of the tower makes you feel as if you are inside a well.
Another interesting thing about Gonbad-e-Qabus is a white stone outside of it that has gained lots of attention from tourists. If you stand on this stone and face the tower, your voice will be reflected in a strange way. Give it a try!
As mentioned earlier, building tomb-towers known as “Meel” or “Menar” was very common during several periods in Iran. Luckily, 30 of them are still standing after centuries and are all worth a visit. The oldest one of them dating back to the Parthian era is known as “Meel-e-Ezhdeha” (Tomb Tower of Dragon) and is located in Mamasany town in Fars Province. But Gonbad-e-Qabus is the most famous one since it’s the tallest brick layered tower of the world.
What else to see in Golestan Province?
The magnificent Gonbad-e-Qabus is not the only tourist attraction of Golestan Province. After finishing your visit, you can go to a small park that is just next to the tower. There you can wear traditional Turkmen clothes and ask photographers to take pictures from you.
We highly recommend you to go for a hiking tour in Hyrcanian forests while traveling Golestan Province. Hyrcanian forests have been added to UNESCO world heritage sites as a unique and valuable natural attraction. Moreover, getting into friendly conversations with the welcoming Turkmen people and learning about their lifestyle as one of the famous tribes of Iran is an experience not to be missed while traveling Northern Iran.
For more information about our tours and itineraries, contact us at Land of Turquoise Domes.